When lockdown leads to a bright idea

  • Scent of success: in the midst of Covid-19, Bermudian Ilona Perry started a candle making company, Penny and Drum (Photograph supplied)

Stuck at home in March because of Covid-19, Ilona Perry started “playing around” with candle fragrances.

The Bermudian, who has lived in Los Angeles, California, for the past decade, wanted to surround herself with familiar scents — from her island home, her favourite holiday destinations and her present neighbourhood, Salt Lake.

Excited by the response she got from friends, she started selling the candles she made. Her business, Penny & Drum, has its official launch today with 25 per cent of the profits of her bestselling Bermuda Rum Swizzle candle going to the Bermuda SPCA throughout September.

“A friend of mine had a candle company and her house smelled so amazing, so I got interested,” said Ms Perry. “She didn’t really tell me what to do. She just gave me some general ideas where to look online and I basically taught myself; a lot of trial and error.”

By the time the coronavirus pandemic struck, her friend had moved her company to Texas.

“I wanted travel scents because we couldn’t go anywhere,” said Ms Perry of the lockdown period that ensued. “The fragrance oils are how you make your scents. So you order a whole bunch and you mix them together basically. It’s alchemy. It’s a lot of fun.

“I got a couple ones that I thought were pretty similar to what I would feel like in Bermuda and those were the first ones I made — Bermuda Rum Swizzle and Mangrove Bay — and then I just kept on going.”

Her “evocatively scented” candles are vegan and phthalate-free, with lead-free wicks. Customers can buy fragrance sample cards for $2 to preview the candles’ scents. They are also included for free with every purchase.

In Miami 15 years ago, Ms Perry made her “own custom perfume” at a perfumery which gave her a basic understanding of what goes into “customising scents”.

“It’s the same thing exactly except that you’re pouring it into a candle,” she said.

She blended about eight different oils for Mangrove Bay and seven for Bermuda Rum Swizzle.

“The Rum Swizzle one was easy because you know what’s in a rum swizzle — you’ve got the orange, you’ve got the grenadine so you get that sweetness and, of course, the rum smell. I was just basically grabbing those scented oils and mixing them together and some other stuff too, just to give it a little more complexity.

“People who are not Bermudian hear ‘mangrove bay’ and they’re like, oh that’s something very green. So I had to put fresh, green but island sort of smells in there, too. So it’s a bit of both those things. It’s very complex.”

She completed her first batch in March and then in June, had a soft launch.

“I created a website, reached out to some of my friends, gave them away to some people and started selling them,” she said.

“I then shut it down for a little bit and [improved] the website. And since then I’ve just been making a lot of candles. I decided I’m gonna make a real business of it, so I’m starting to do the advertising, all the marketing and that sort of stuff.”

She got the name for the company from a boutique she had owned and had shuttered “a couple years ago”, having been horrified by its carbon footprint.

“Everything was coming from China — and I didn’t want to do that. So with this one almost all my materials except for the fragrance oils are locally sourced and they’re coming from women-owned and Latina, Latinx companies as well. When I send them out to anybody they’re carbon neutral as well and everything I have is recyclable. So it’s all good.”

Equally important to her was that the business had a charitable aspect to it. “That’s something I’m always going to do because I think that businesses need to be part of the community and helping the world. It’s not just about moneymaking. If you’re not helping each other it’s not even worth doing it.”

She chose the Bermuda SPCA because she knew the charity was “having a hard time because of the coronavirus”.

“We’re hoping that there’s going to be more small businesses on the island to help them out too with my example,” Ms Perry said.

She plants a tree with every order and ten per cent of her profits go to Girls Inc, a US charity that helps at-risk girls escape the cycle of poverty.

Follow Penny and Drum on Instagram. Ilona Perry’s candles are sold at and locally, at Spirit House in Devonshire